Discuss the view that Russia had never been stronger than on the eve of the Great War

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Luciana Machado


IB History – HL

Discuss the view that Russia had never been stronger

than on the eve of the Great War

In the years leading up to 1914, war loomed over Europe. The Great Alliances were being tested as tension rose throughout the continent, and Russia found herself allied with France and the powerful Britain. When what would come to be known as the Great War hung over the nation, how strong was Russia? Was she the shadow of former greatness or the equal past power? In order to discuss this idea, one must consider her armed forces, science and technology, the arts in Russia at the time, and social and economical structures.

Firstly, when considering the armed forces, one must look at the military. The military reforms had not been practised by 1914, and as such, it was not quite up to date. There were plans to update the artillery but these were only set in motion in 1913 after some years of planning. Consequently, Russia entered the war with significantly less artillery support than her opponents. The Russian military continued to be weak due to the lack of their gunmen’s capacity, especially in her gun walls. Her infantry was also proved weak in practice as they only carried small stocks of ammo with them and at the front line. In the new age of machine guns and trench warfare, the Russian army still used the 0.299 inch rifle that had been introduced in 1891, and many of the older infantry officers still relied on the old bayonet charge, even though that tactic had been discredited. This is not to say that the army contained of no machine gunmen, but it was a very small amount, despite the loss in the Russo-Japanese war. Furthermore, when juxtaposed with most of the generals from her allies and enemies, the Russian generals knew very little about the construction of trenches or advanced strategies of warfare. Additionally, Russia was still very backward in its treatment of ordinary infantry soldiers, treating them like sheep and giving them limited rights. The infantrymen could not, for example, use first or second class on railways, only third. The soldiers could not refuse illegal orders by their superiors, only fed on basic diets, had unhygienic living conditions, and were poorly equipped. Overall, the Russia military was still in a backward state, weak, and poorly equipped for the Great War.

In stark contrast, the Russian Navy was undergoing a colossal long term plan to make Russian into the world’s third largest naval power; however this was not to be completed by 1931. Russia was far ahead of rival powers in its naval developments. She was able to successfully announce the first mine laying submarine and was able to help the British Navy in 1914. And also in the Baltic, Russia was ahead of other countries. They had radio direction stations on both sides of the Gulf of Finland, allowing the Navy to locate any ships which broke radio silence. Russia’s pride destroyer, the Novik, was the most developed warship in her fleet and was more advanced than any other. And also, a fifth of the officer cores were Baltic Germans, greatly adding to the power of the navy. As is clearly described above, Russia had in fact never been stronger in her navy, and was on her way to being considered a large naval power.

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The science and technological advancements made by Russia up to the 1914 War are also important when considering the view in the title. Russia science was even stronger than it had been in the past ‘glory years’. Markov achieved great recognition for publishing a number of theories in probability, Bernstein famously arrived at his theory of function, and Menchikov’s study of infection and immunization was renown around Europe. Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for his work on behavioural psychology and digestive enzymes, and Menchurin’s study of genetics led to continental recognition for his work including the creation of a ...

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